IPY in the Antarctic Peninsula - Ice and Climate System

Project Description
Short Title: IPY-AP
Proposal URL: http://classic.ipy.org/development/eoi/proposal-details.php?id=107

Air temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula have risen 6 times faster than the global average in recent decades, triggering glaciological and ecological events unique in the history of this region in the last 1,000 years. In particular, this warming was responsible for the collapse of Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002. Further south, Larsen C has thinned and continued warming could lead to its breakup within the next decade.

To date, access to the most active Peninsula regions has been limited, and little baseline glaciological data exist. As a result, large uncertainties remain in the determination of the mass balance of this region. Studies based on remote sensing and available in situ data show that a complex interaction is underway, involving enhanced precipitation at high elevation, enhanced melting at low elevation, sea ice retreat, enhanced surface and basal melting of land and shelf ice; glacier and ice shelf fracturing; melt percolation; seasonal changes in ice flow; and rapid glacial acceleration in the aftermath of ice shelf break-up. As the Larsen A and B ice shelves disintegrated they uncovered a glacial history preserved on the sea-floor indicating the current retreats are rare to unprecedented in the Holocene.

This proposal represents a combination of interests from GLABENAP, TRAPIS, APICS, and APY; these four activities sought to study ice- and climate-related changes at 3 different latitudes, and therefore 3 different stages of ice response to climate change. GLABENAP aims to investigate glacier response in the northernmost areas of the Peninsula, in the aftermath of the transition from continental Antarctic conditions to sub-polar Cordilleran styles of glaciation; APICS and TRAPIS aim to study the rapid changes where ice shelf retreat and glacier acceleration are underway at present; and APY has an interest in the precursors to this change, in basal melting and the influence of increasing summer surface melt on grounded glaciers further to the south around Larsen C. All 4 studies recognize the importance of climate, paleo-climate, geological and oceanographic influences; and all recognize the profound biological responses to change. This proposal is an umbrella organizational tool for several research projects focused on ice-climate interactions.

We propose an international program of logistical cooperation and scientific collaboration to measure, model, and understand the ongoing climate and glaciological changes in the AP. The results will document the evolution of shelf-glacier systems in a warming climate. Our field science program will install automated observing stations at selected sites, deploy an array of sensors designed to monitor glaciological and geophysical parameters of importance that cannot be collected any other way, and collect critical climate and paleoclimate data. During these campaigns, we will gather baseline data on ice motion, thickness, structure, and internal temperature. The program will also further investigate the sea-floor sedimentary record, promote ongoing west coast ecosystem research, and initiate a program of biological and oceanographic observation along the eastern coast. Remote-sensing-based studies will continue, using both new and existing tools, both airborne and satellite based. We envision a coordinated logistical plan combining US, UK, Chilean, Brazilian and Argentine airborne and ground assets, and we plan US and UK research vessel cruises that would support both land and sea field work. It is our hope that the logistical paths established as part of IPY will lead to continuing and growing cooperation in the Peninsula in the following years.

We will establish an IPY-AP web forum, and organize regular workshop meetings building on recent successful meetings at Hamilton College and SPRI that will provide a venue for discussing results, promoting outreach, and planning research activities.

The Antarctic Peninsula is a model for a future, warmer Antarctica. What we see there are changes of greater scale, speed, and magnitude than were considered possible before. IPY-AP seeks to better observe this system and its responses to know what the future may hold. This region of the World is ideal for international collaboration from geopolitical, logistical and scientific standpoints in the context of IPY.